Packer brands can build competition

Clint Peck nailed the Tyson/IBP buyout (Tyson's Upstream Attitude, November, page 48). Tyson has demonstrated outstanding business ability. But rest assured, he well knows to buy as cheap as possible and sell as high as possible. Don't we all? Controlling the sell side would take too much risk and effort. The buying side is the more easily controlled (just make sure the supply side doesn't die, but

Clint Peck nailed the Tyson/IBP buyout (“Tyson's Upstream Attitude,” November, page 48). Tyson has demonstrated outstanding business ability. But rest assured, he well knows to buy as cheap as possible and sell as high as possible. Don't we all?

Controlling the sell side would take too much risk and effort. The buying side is the more easily controlled (just make sure the supply side doesn't die, but very sick ones are OK).

Until the three big packers actually compete with each other, they'll all concentrate on cheap supply. If the Big Three had their own names (and reputations) stamped on the end-product the consumer holds in her hand, only then would true competition affect the marketplace.

If calves would bring $2/lb., we'd grow them in our living room. But that price is as unbelievable as trying to convince anyone that we would pay $1.75/gal. for gasoline or $30,000 for a sports utility vehicle.
Jimmy R. Bason
New Mexico Cattle Growers' Ass'n

More Important Battles

It amazes us that with so many urgent issues facing the cattle business, a segment of our industry has spent so much time, money and energy trying to eliminate the beef checkoff program.

When the group didn't have much success bringing the issue to a vote, they jumped on the constitutionality bandwagon. Just think of the benefit to the cattle industry if this group directed its time, money and energy toward something positive like protecting private property rights, educating our city folks on the environmental benefits of grazing, etc.

The beef checkoff is the best thing initiated by the beef industry to promote and research its product. The checkoff can be compared to a marriage. As disagreements arise, you don't pull the plug. You stay for the long haul and work things out. So it is with the checkoff.

We'll never develop a program that will satisfy everyone, and probably every beef industry person would change something about the program. Personally, we'd like to see the checkoff contribution raised to $2/head. What other industry the size of ours spends in the neighborhood of 1/1010th of 1% of the value of its product for promotion, research, etc.?

Let's direct our energy to fighting the real battles facing our industry. Work within the organization to make your concerns known.
Blaine and Judy Evans
Coalmont, CO

Who Has The Pamphlet?

Where can I get the pamphlet “Keeping It In The Family?” The Montana Extension publication was mentioned in the fall edition of IRM News, which was inserted in the November issue of BEEF.
Kim Runyan
McAlister, NM

Renee Lloyd, director of Production Systems for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, responds:

The material cited in the IRM News story by Bob and Kathy Lee was EB-144, “Estate Planning: The Basics,” $10, a set of about 25 fact sheets. The publication is EB-149, “Transferring Your Farm & Ranch to the Next Generation,” $2, by Marsha Goetting of Montana State University. Order by calling 406/994-3273 or writing to: Extension Publications, PO Box 172040, Bozeman, MT 59717-2040.

I recommend that people contact their local Extension office for materials that relate directly to their state laws.

A Marketing Question

I received my November issue of BEEF and read it cover to cover as always. With special interest I noted “Reader's Viewpoint” and particularly Greg Steere's comments regarding small producers (“Small Producers Count,” page 10).

I also am a small producer of 120 cows in a cow/calf operation. We both work just about as hard as daylight allows. Yet, how do we get the marketing advantage? Unless you can sell a “pot load,” you are at the mercy of a small sale barn. Please write more about how to market less than a pot load of calves more efficiently than taking them to a nearby sale barn.
John Runk
Genevieve, MO

Harlan Hughes responds:

While there is a marketing advantage to marketing in pot loads, it just may not be feasible for some producers. There are, of course, efforts in parts of the country to “pool” feeder calves and sell them in pot loads.

I'd encourage you to explore pooling in your area. Contact your local county Extension agent to see what might be possible in your locale.

Selling through a sale barn can be a good way to market less than pot loads of feeder calves. One major role that sale barns play is the assembling of feeder cattle. The sale barn may be able to assemble pot loads of cattle more economically than a group of ranchers.

More importantly, however, there are bigger dollars to be harvested than selling by pot loads, especially when selling by pot load is not possible. My 10 years of Integrated Resource Management Cost & Return Analyses suggest that most producers can pick up far more dollars by reducing their costs of production than by selling pot loads.

I encourage you to not get frustrated by what you can't do through marketing and to focus your management energies on first measuring your costs of production and then working to lower those production costs. The dollars added to the bottom line through cost reductions have far exceeded the dollars gained by marketing by pot loads.

I appreciate your comments on working hard all the daylight hours on the ranch. Ranching is changing rapidly. In today's economics, however, it's not how hard you work but how smart you work.

I suspect that by spending some time each year analyzing production costs and looking for ways to reduce them will pay far more dividends that marketing in pot loads. Contact your local Extension office about getting an IRM analysis of your cowherd. You'll be surprised what this one management action can do for your bottom line.

$1/Head Checkoff Isn't $1

With a 50-year track record on beef cattle, I may qualify as an “expert.” The $1/head checkoff isn't $1/head. Most beef calves are sold at weaning, and the same animal is sold again to the packer when finished. That's more like $2/head. Many dairy animals pay $3/head in checkoffs.

If the experts were, or are, in business, you wouldn't read articles telling only half the story. When they take $1/head, please tell the feedlot owner how to make a profit from 95¢ yearlings to 55¢ fats.
Richard J. Sweep
Crookston, MN

Reinventing The Wheel

Your two-step weaning article by Canadian researchers Derek Haley and Joe Stookey was a bit like rediscovering the wheel (“The Weaning Two-Step,” November, page 30). We so-called rotational grazing practitioners (make that “management intensive graziers”) have been weaning across a hot-wire fence for some time with the same good results.

But we don't stress the calves by sticking something in their noses. We just separate them across a hot wire with good grazing on both sides and we're done with it.

If you don't have a hot wire, pen the calves in a corral or enclosure with the cows on the outside where they can see their calves. You'll love it.
Harold Shappell
Henrietta, TX

Derek Haley & Joseph Stookey respond:

We agree that allowing fence-line contact reduces the weaning stress on cows and calves compared to traditional methods of remote separation. If that's the only method available to a producer, we encourage them to try fence-line weaning.

However, our research has shown that the benefits of fence-line weaning pale in comparison to the two-step weaning procedure. The difference is dramatic.

Calves show no obvious signs of being stressed while wearing the device; they behave the same with it on or off (the only exception being of course, they can't nurse with it on).

Fence-line weaning does not eliminate all the behavioral signs of distress at weaning — it only reduces them. Like you, we believe that fence-line weaning is a step in the right direction, but we see many more advantages in taking two steps in the right direction. The proof is in the comparison.

We encourage you to be the judge and give it a try.

Checkoff Isn't For Me

I disagree with Joe Roybal's editorial “Well, here comes da judge” and Wes Ishmael's article “Get busy with the checkoff” in your October issue. As a brand inspector in Wyoming, I see nowhere near the 72% checkoff support you cite.

The checkoff is taxation without representation. There's no one I can vote out of office if I don't like the programs they support. I resent my checkoff dollars being used for programs I'm totally against with no voice in the matter, or using my dollars to tell me how well they are doing saving the beef industry.
Jerry Fadis
Rawlins, WY

Editor's Note: That some checkoff money be spent for producer communications is required by law. Beef industry nominees to the board that controls spending are submitted by fellow state producers with final appointments made by the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

For comprehensive information on the beef checkoff visit

Doesn't Like The Cook-Off

I read with disgust that my promotional dollars funded a $110,000 cook-off contest (November, “News Closeout,” page 66.) Is there that much money that it has to be wasted on such an event as this?

Also, Wes Ishmael writes in September (“CATTLEconomics,” page 12) that $5 is gained for every checkoff dollar spent. Tell me how a $110,000 cook-off made us over $500,000?

Now, he suggests we increase the checkoff to $2. Some, if not most of us, make $50/head profit or less, so $2 is 4% of our net income. If Ishmael feels so strongly about this checkoff, then he should contribute 4% of his take-home pay.

There are three things that drive a market — supply, demand and competition. Let's not only advertise our raw product, but advertise and market a finished one. Why not pool our checkoff dollars and purchase a processing plant, then pay a CEO who would be held accountable to make us money that we could actually see and benefit from?
Brett Galloway
Nova, OH

Editor's Note: The National Beef Cookoff is a 24-year-old beef promotion event that annually attracts tremendous national media attention. This allows consumers to hear beef's positive message about taste, health and convenience.

The Checkoff Act and Order passed by Congress in 1985 stipulates that checkoff funds can only be used for research and promotion activities. Within those parameters, the decision on where to spend checkoff funds is made and evaluated by the 110 checkoff-paying beef industry representatives appointed to the Cattlemen's Beef Board by the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

Can't We Get Along?

Pat Goggins, president of the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA), once wrote in his weekly column: “halting a successful advertising campaign of a business would be the same as removing the locomotive from a moving train. They both would stop moving forward.”

Yet, the LMA's sole mission seems to be the destruction of the beef checkoff — the only beef promotion vehicle our industry has.

The only way to higher prices is to create demand. Every one of us spends a lot of effort raising two blades of grass where we used to raise one, and that means more beef. Our goal should be to sell two cuts of beef where we now sell one. That means promotion.

This industry doesn't have the time for this dissension. There are producers south of the equator bent on having the American beef industry go the way of the American sheep industry.

It's time for LMA and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to draw their chairs up to the table and put this squabble behind us.
Clarence Wilbur
Ontonagon, MI

Send reader letters, with name and address, to BEEF, 7900 International Dr., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425; or e-mail to BEEF reserves the right to edit for length.